Barchester Towers, by Anthony Trollope

CHAPTER VI

War

“Good heavens!” exclaimed the archdeacon as he placed his foot on the gravel walk of the close, and raising his hat with one hand, passed the other somewhat violently over his now grizzled locks; smoke issued forth from the uplifted beaver as it were a cloud of wrath, and the safety valve of his anger opened, and emitted a visible steam, preventing positive explosion and probable apoplexy. “Good heavens!”— and the archdeacon looked up to the gray pinnacles of the cathedral tower, making a mute appeal to that still living witness which had looked down on the doings of so many bishops of Barchester.

“I don’t think I shall ever like that Mr. Slope,” said Mr. Harding.

“Like him!” roared the archdeacon, standing still for a moment to give more force to his voice; “like him!” All the ravens of the close cawed their assent. The old bells of the tower, in chiming the hour, echoed the words, and the swallows flying out from their nests mutely expressed a similar opinion. Like Mr. Slope! Why no, it was not very probable that any Barchester-bred living thing should like Mr. Slope!

“Nor Mrs. Proudie either,” said Mr. Harding.

The archdeacon hereupon forgot himself. I will not follow his example, nor shock my readers by transcribing the term in which he expressed his feeling as to the lady who had been named. The ravens and the last lingering notes of the clock bells were less scrupulous and repeated in correspondent echoes the very improper exclamation. The archdeacon again raised his hat, and another salutary escape of steam was effected.

There was a pause, during which the precentor tried to realize the fact that the wife of a Bishop of Barchester had been thus designated, in the close of the cathedral, by the lips of its own archdeacon; but he could not do it.

“The bishop seems to be a quiet man enough,” suggested Mr. Harding, having acknowledged to himself his own failure.

“Idiot!” exclaimed the doctor, who for the nonce was not capable of more than such spasmodic attempts at utterance.

“Well, he did not seem very bright,” said Mr. Harding, “and yet he has always had the reputation of a clever man. I suppose he’s cautious and not inclined to express himself very freely.”

The new Bishop of Barchester was already so contemptible a creature in Dr. Grantly’s eyes that he could not condescend to discuss his character. He was a puppet to be played by others; a mere wax doll, done up in an apron and a shovel hat, to be stuck on a throne or elsewhere and pulled about by wires as others chose. Dr. Grantly did not choose to let himself down low enough to talk about Dr. Proudie, but he saw that he would have to talk about the other members of his household, the coadjutor bishops, who had brought his lordship down, as it were, in a box, and were about to handle the wires as they willed. This in itself was a terrible vexation to the archdeacon. Could he have ignored the chaplain and have fought the bishop, there would have been, at any rate, nothing degrading in such a contest. Let the Queen make whom she would Bishop of Barchester; a man, or even an ape, when once a bishop, would be a respectable adversary, if he would but fight, himself. But what was such a person as Dr. Grantly to do when such another person as Mr. Slope was put forward as his antagonist?

If he, our archdeacon, refused the combat, Mr. Slope would walk triumphant over the field and have the diocese of Barchester under his heel.

If, on the other hand, the archdeacon accepted as his enemy the man whom the new puppet bishop put before him as such, he would have to talk about Mr. Slope, and write about Mr. Slope, and in all matters treat with Mr. Slope, as a being standing, in some degree, on ground similar to his own. He would have to meet Mr. Slope, to — Bah! the idea was sickening. He could not bring himself to have to do with Mr. Slope.

“He is the most thoroughly bestial creature that ever I set my eyes upon,” said the archdeacon.

“Who — the bishop?” asked the other innocently.

“Bishop! no — I’m not talking about the bishop. How on earth such a creature got ordained! — they’ll ordain anybody now, I know, but he’s been in the church these ten years, and they used to be a little careful ten years ago.”

“Oh! You mean Mr. Slope.”

“Did you ever see any animal less like a gentleman?” asked Dr. Grantly.

“I can’t say I felt myself much disposed to like him.”

“Like him!” again shouted the doctor, and the assenting ravens again cawed an echo; “of course, you don’t like him: it’s not a question of liking. But what are we to do with him?”

“Do with him?” asked Mr. Harding.

“Yes — what are we to do with him? How are we to treat him? There he is, and there he’ll stay. He has put his foot in that palace, and he’ll never take it out again till he’s driven. How are we to get rid of him?”

“I don’t suppose he can do us much harm.”

“Not do harm! — Well, I think you’ll find yourself of a different opinion before a month is gone. What would you say now, if he got himself put into the hospital? Would that be harm?”

Mr. Harding mused awhile and then said he didn’t think the new bishop would put Mr. Slope into the hospital.

“If he doesn’t put him there, he’ll put him somewhere else where he’ll be as bad. I tell you that that man, to all intents and purposes, will be Bishop of Barchester!” And again Dr. Grantly raised his hat and rubbed his hand thoughtfully and sadly over his head.

“Impudent scoundrel!” he continued after a while. “To dare to cross-examine me about the Sunday-schools in the diocese, and Sunday travelling too: I never in my life met his equal for sheer impudence. Why, he must have thought we were two candidates for ordination!”

“I declare I thought Mrs. Proudie was the worst of the two,” said Mr. Harding.

“When a woman is impertinent, one must only put up with it and keep out of her way in future, but I am not inclined to put up with Mr. Slope. ‘Sabbath travelling!’ “ and the doctor attempted to imitate the peculiar drawl of the man he so much disliked: “‘Sabbath travelling!’ Those are the sort of men who will ruin the Church of England and make the profession of a clergyman disreputable. It is not the dissenters or the papists that we should fear, but the set of canting, low-bred hypocrites who are wriggling their way in among us; men who have no fixed principle, no standard ideas of religion or doctrine, but who take up some popular cry, as this fellow has done about ‘Sabbath travelling.’”

Dr. Grantly did not again repeat the question aloud, but he did so constantly to himself: What were they to do with Mr. Slope? How was he openly, before the world, to show that he utterly disapproved of and abhorred such a man?

Hitherto Barchester had escaped the taint of any extreme rigour of church doctrine. The clergymen of the city and neighbourhood, though very well inclined to promote High Church principles, privileges, and prerogatives, had never committed themselves to tendencies which are somewhat too loosely called Puseyite practices. They all preached in their black gowns, as their fathers had done before them; they wore ordinary black cloth waistcoats; they had no candles on their altars, either lighted or unlighted; they made no private genuflexions, and were contented to confine themselves to such ceremonial observances as had been in vogue for the last hundred years. The services were decently and demurely read in their parish churches, chanting was confined to the cathedral, and the science of intoning was unknown. One young man who had come direct from Oxford as a curate to Plumstead had, after the lapse of two or three Sundays, made a faint attempt, much to the bewilderment of the poorer part of the congregation. Dr. Grantly had not been present on the occasion, but Mrs. Grantly, who had her own opinion on the subject, immediately after the service expressed a hope that the young gentleman had not been taken ill, and offered to send him all kinds of condiments supposed to be good for a sore throat. After that there had been no more intoning at Plumstead Episcopi.

But now the archdeacon began to meditate on some strong measures of absolute opposition. Dr. Proudie and his crew were of the lowest possible order of Church of England clergymen, and therefore it behoved him, Dr. Grantly, to be of the very highest. Dr. Proudie would abolish all forms and ceremonies, and therefore Dr. Grantly felt the sudden necessity of multiplying them. Dr. Proudie would consent to deprive the church of all collective authority and rule, and therefore Dr. Grantly would stand up for the full power of convocation and the renewal of all its ancient privileges.

It was true that he could not himself intone the service, but he could procure the co-operation of any number of gentlemanlike curates well trained in the mystery of doing so. He-would not willingly alter his own fashion of dress, but he could people Barchester with young clergymen dressed in the longest frocks and in the highest-breasted silk waistcoats. He certainly was not prepared to cross himself, or to advocate the real presence, but without going this length there were various observances, by adopting which he could plainly show his antipathy to such men as Dr. Proudie and Mr. Slope.

All these things passed through his mind as he paced up and down the close with Mr. Harding. War, war, internecine war was in his heart. He felt that, as regarded himself and Mr. Slope, one of the two must be annihilated as far as the city of Barchester was concerned, and he did not intend to give way until there was not left to him an inch of ground on which he could stand. He still flattered himself that he could make Barchester too hot to hold Mr. Slope, and he had no weakness of spirit to prevent his bringing about such a consummation if it were in his power.

“I suppose Susan must call at the palace,” said Mr. Harding.

“Yes, she shall call there, but it shall be once and once only. I dare say ‘the horses’ won’t find it convenient to come out to Plumstead very soon, and when that once is done the matter may drop.”

“I don’t suppose Eleanor need call. I don’t think Eleanor would get on at all well with Mrs. Proudie.”

“Not the least necessity in life,” replied the archdeacon, not without the reflexion that a ceremony which was necessary for his wife might not be at all binding on the widow of John Bold. “Not the slightest reason on earth why she should do so, if she doesn’t like it. For myself, I don’t think that any decent young woman should be subjected to the nuisance of being in the same room with that man.”

And so the two clergymen parted, Mr. Harding going to his daughter’s house and the archdeacon seeking the seclusion of his brougham.

The new inhabitants of the palace did not express any higher opinion of their visitors than their visitors had expressed of them. Though they did not use quite such strong language as Dr. Grantly had done, they felt as much personal aversion and were quite as well aware as he was that there would be a battle to be fought, that there was hardly room for Proudieism in Barchester as long as Grantlyism was predominant.

Indeed, it may be doubted whether Mr. Slope had not already within his breast a better prepared system of strategy, a more accurately defined line of hostile conduct than the archdeacon. Dr. Grantly was going to fight because he found that he hated the man. Mr. Slope had predetermined to hate the man because he foresaw the necessity of fighting him. When he had first reviewed the carte du pays previous to his entry into Barchester, the idea had occurred to him of conciliating the archdeacon, of cajoling and flattering him into submission, and of obtaining the upper hand by cunning instead of courage. A little inquiry, however, sufficed to convince him that all his cunning would fail to win over such a man as Dr. Grantly to such a mode of action as that to be adopted by Mr. Slope, and then he determined to fall back upon his courage. He at once saw that open battle against Dr. Grantly and all Dr. Grantly’s adherents was a necessity of his position, and he deliberately planned the most expedient methods of giving offence.

Soon after his arrival the bishop had intimated to the dean that, with the permission of the canon then in residence, his chaplain would preach in the cathedral on the next Sunday. The canon in residence happened to be the Hon. and Rev. Dr. Vesey Stanhope, who at this time was very busy on the shores of the Lake of Como, adding to that unique collection of butterflies for which he is so famous. Or rather, he would have been in residence but for the butterflies and other such summer-day considerations; and the vicar-choral, who was to take his place in the pulpit, by no means objected to having his work done for him by Mr. Slope.

Mr. Slope accordingly preached, and if a preacher can have satisfaction in being listened to, Mr. Slope ought to have been gratified. I have reason to think that he was gratified and that he left the pulpit with the conviction that he had done what he intended to do when he entered it.

On this occasion the new bishop took his seat for the first time in the throne alloted to him. New scarlet cushions and drapery had been prepared, with new gilt binding and new fringe. The old carved oak-wood of the throne, ascending with its numerous grotesque pinnacles half-way up to the roof of the choir, had been washed, and dusted, and rubbed, and it all looked very smart. Ah! how often sitting there, in happy early days, on those lowly benches in front of the altar, have I whiled away the tedium of a sermon in considering how best I might thread my way up amidst those wooden towers and climb safely to the topmost pinnacle!

All Barchester went to hear Mr. Slope; either for that or to gaze at the new bishop. All the best bonnets of the city were there, and moreover all the best glossy clerical hats. Not a stall but had its fitting occupant, for though some of the prebendaries might be away in Italy or elsewhere, their places were filled by brethren who flocked into Barchester on the occasion. The dean was there, a heavy old man, now too old, indeed, to attend frequently in his place, and so was the archdeacon. So also were the chancellor, the treasurer, the precentor, sundry canons and minor canons, and every lay member of the choir, prepared to sing the new bishop in with due melody and harmonious expression of sacred welcome.

The service was certainly very well performed. Such was always the case at Barchester, as the musical education of the choir had been good, and the voices had been carefully selected. The psalms were beautifully chanted; the Te Deum was magnificently sung; and the litany was given in a manner which is still to be found at Barchester but, if my taste be correct, is to be found nowhere else. The litany in Barchester cathedral has long been the special task to which Mr. Harding’s skill and voice have been devoted. Crowded audiences generally make good performers, and though Mr. Harding was not aware of any extraordinary exertion on his part, yet probably he rather exceeded his usual mark. Others were doing their best, and it was natural that he should emulate his brethren. So the service went on, and at last Mr. Slope got into the pulpit.

He chose for his text a verse from the precepts addressed by St. Paul to Timothy, as to the conduct necessary in a spiritual pastor and guide, and it was immediately evident that the good clergy of Barchester were to have a lesson.

“Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” These were the words of his text, and with such a subject in such a place, it may be supposed that such a preacher would be listened to by such an audience. He was listened to with breathless attention and not without considerable surprise. Whatever opinion of Mr. Slope might have been held in Barchester before he commenced his discourse, none of his hearers, when it was over, could mistake him either for a fool or a coward.

It would not be becoming were I to travesty a sermon, or even to repeat the language of it in the pages of a novel. In endeavouring to depict the characters of the persons of whom I write, I am to a certain extent forced to speak of sacred things. I trust, however, that I shall not be thought to scoff at the pulpit, though some may imagine that I do not feel all the reverence that is due to the cloth. I may question the infallibility of the teachers, but I hope that I shall not therefore be accused of doubt as to the thing to be taught.

Mr. Slope, in commencing his sermon, showed no slight tact in his ambiguous manner of hinting that, humble as he was himself, he stood there as the mouth-piece of the illustrious divine who sat opposite to him; and having premised so much, he gave forth a very accurate definition of the conduct which that prelate would rejoice to see in the clergymen now brought under his jurisdiction. It is only necessary to say that the peculiar points insisted upon were exactly those which were most distasteful to the clergy of the diocese and most averse to their practice and opinions, and that all those peculiar habits and privileges which have always been dear to High Church priests, to that party which is now scandalously called the “high and dry church,” were ridiculed, abused, and anathematized. Now, the clergymen of the diocese of Barchester are all of the high and dry church.

Having thus, according to his own opinion, explained how a clergyman should show himself approved unto God, as a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, he went on to explain how the word of truth should be divided; and here he took a rather narrow view of the question and fetched his arguments from afar. His object was to express his abomination of all ceremonious modes of utterance, to cry down any religious feeling which might be excited, not by the sense, but by the sound of words, and in fact to insult cathedral practices. Had St. Paul spoken of rightly pronouncing, instead of rightly dividing the word of truth, this part of his sermon would have been more to the purpose, but the preacher’s immediate object was to preach Mr. Slope’s doctrine, and not St. Paul’s, and he contrived to give the necessary twist to the text with some skill.

He could not exactly say, preaching from a cathedral pulpit, that chanting should be abandoned in cathedral services. By such an assertion he would have overshot his mark and rendered himself absurd, to the delight of his hearers. He could, however, and did allude with heavy denunciations to the practice of intoning in parish churches, although the practice was all but unknown in the diocese; and from thence he came round to the undue preponderance which, he asserted, music had over meaning in the beautiful service which they had just heard. He was aware, he said, that the practices of our ancestors could not be abandoned at a moment’s notice; the feelings of the aged would be outraged, and the minds of respectable men would be shocked. There were many, he was aware, of not sufficient calibre of thought to perceive, of not sufficient education to know, that a mode of service which was effective when outward ceremonies were of more moment than inward feelings had become all but barbarous at a time when inward conviction was everything, when each word of the minister’s lips should fall intelligibly into the listener’s heart. Formerly the religion of the multitude had been an affair of the imagination: now, in these latter days, it had become necessary that a Christian should have a reason for his faith — should not only believe, but digest — not only hear, but understand. The words of our morning service, how beautiful, how apposite, how intelligible they were, when read with simple and distinct decorum! But how much of the meaning of the words was lost when they were produced with all the meretricious charms of melody! &c. &c.

Here was a sermon to be preached before Mr. Archdeacon Grantly, Mr. Precentor Harding, and the rest of them! Before a whole dean and chapter assembled in their own cathedral! Before men who had grown old in the exercise of their peculiar services, with a full conviction of their excellence for all intended purposes! This too from such a man, a clerical parvenu, a man without a cure, a mere chaplain, an intruder among them; a fellow raked up, so said Dr. Grantly, from the gutters of Marylebone! They had to sit through it! None of them, not even Dr. Grantly, could close his ears, nor leave the house of God during the hours of service. They were under an obligation of listening, and that too without any immediate power of reply.

There is, perhaps, no greater hardship at present inflicted on mankind in civilized and free countries than the necessity of listening to sermons. No one but a preaching clergyman has, in these realms, the power of compelling an audience to sit silent and be tormented. No one but a preaching clergyman can revel in platitudes, truisms, and untruisms and yet receive, as his undisputed privilege, the same respectful demeanour as though words of impassioned eloquence, or persuasive logic, fell from his lips. Let a professor of law or physics find his place in a lecture-room and there pour forth jejune words and useless empty phrases, and he will pour them forth to empty benches. Let a barrister attempt to talk without talking well, and he will talk but seldom. A judge’s charge need be listened to perforce by none but the jury, prisoner, and gaoler. A member of Parliament can be coughed down or counted out. Town-councillors can be tabooed. But no one can rid himself of the preaching clergyman. He is the bore of the age, the old man whom we Sindbads cannot shake off, the nightmare that disturbs our Sunday’s rest, the incubus that overloads our religion and makes God’s service distasteful. We are not forced into church! No: but we desire more than that. We desire not to be forced to stay away. We desire, nay, we are resolute, to enjoy the comfort of public worship, but we desire also that we may do so without an amount of tedium which ordinary human nature cannot endure with patience; that we may be able to leave the house of God without that anxious longing for escape which is the common consequence of common sermons.

With what complacency will a young parson deduce false conclusions from misunderstood texts, and then threaten us with all the penalties of Hades if we neglect to comply with the injunctions he has given us! Yes, my too self-confident juvenile friend, I do believe in those mysteries which are so common in your mouth; I do believe in the unadulterated word which you hold there in your hand; but you must pardon me if, in some things, I doubt your interpretation. The Bible is good, the prayer-book is good, nay, you yourself would be acceptable, if you would read to me some portion of those time-honoured discourses which our. great divines have elaborated in the full maturity of their powers. But you must excuse me, my insufficient young lecturer, if I yawn over your imperfect sentences, your repeated phrases, your false pathos, your drawlings and denouncings, your humming and hawing, your ohing and ahing, your black gloves and your white handkerchief. To me, it all means nothing; and hours are too precious to be so wasted — if one could only avoid it.

And here I must make a protest against the pretence, so often put forward by the working clergy, that they are overburdened by the multitude of sermons to be preached. We are all too fond of our own voices, and a preacher is encouraged in the vanity of making his heard by the privilege of a compelled audience. His sermon is the pleasant morsel of his life, his delicious moment of self-exaltation. “I have preached nine sermons this week,” said a young friend to me the other day, with hand languidly raised to his brow, the picture of an overburdened martyr. “Nine this week, seven last week, four the week before. I have preached twenty-three sermons this month. It is really too much.”

“Too much, indeed,” said I, shuddering; “too much for the strength of any one.”

“Yes,” he answered meekly, “indeed it is; I am beginning to feel it painfully.”

“Would,” said I, “you could feel it — would that you could be made to feel it.” But he never guessed that my heart was wrung for the poor listeners.

There was, at any rate, no tedium felt in listening to Mr. Slope on the occasion in question. His subject came too home to his audience to be dull, and to tell the truth Mr. Slope had the gift of using words forcibly. He was heard through his thirty minutes of eloquence with mute attention and open ears, but with angry eyes, which glared round from one enraged parson to another, with wide-spread nostrils from which already burst forth fumes of indignation, and with many shufflings of the feet and uneasy motions of the body, which betokened minds disturbed and hearts not at peace with all the world.

At last the bishop, who, of all the congregation, had been most surprised, and whose hair almost stood on end with terror, gave the blessing in a manner not at all equal to that in which he had long been practising it in his own study, and the congregation was free to go their way.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43